Speaking publicly for the first time since Jamestown Police Officer David Mitchell was shot in the face at point-blank range, his wife described those first terrifying moments and the past three months of his recovery.
Christine Mitchell was one of several speakers at a "Candlelight Memories" vigil Tuesday night at Hillcrest Baptist Church attended by more than 300 people. Sporting an eye patch and looking several pounds thinner than a Police Department photograph featured by the media, her husband sat quietly during the vigil.
The officer and his wife lighted one of the candles at the front of the sanctuary during the service.
When she first heard of the shooting the night of Sept. 15, "My mind and my body went numb, but I knew that I had to be with him," Mrs. Mitchell said.
The officer's wife was taken to the hospital emergency room where Mitchell, an undercover officer assigned to the Southern Tier Regional Drug Task Force, was semi-conscious and "very agitated." She estimated some 10 people were working on him, and he was pushing them away.
"That's when I first realized that David was fighting . . . he was fighting for his life," she said.
Including two weeks in a medically induced coma, the officer spent a month in an intensive-care unit at Erie County Medical Center, then another month in a rehabilitation unit at the hospital, before he was released just before Thanksgiving.
Tuesday, though, was a time for giving thanks publicly. Mrs. Mitchell said the support she and her family received boosted her faith and hope.
"I knew I wasn't alone. I knew I wasn't the only one grieving. I knew I had friends, and even strangers that I could depend on, and you did, you helped me, and I thank you for that," she said.
Mrs. Mitchell said she was pleased, but not surprised, by the number of supporters who packed the church.
"I'm glad that all his friends and all his colleagues were here. I wanted him to know just what the support was all about," she said.
The vigil was organized by Jamestown Police Detective David Weatherwax.
"We took part in the ceremonies up in Buffalo and Rochester, and felt that this was an appropriate time for us to have one in Chautauqua County," said Weatherwax. "Being the holiday, we try to remember to be thankful for things, and one of the things we're thankful for this holiday is that David Mitchell is home, and he's well, and he's recovering."
Also among the speakers were city Police Chief William MacLaughlin, Deputy Chief Lawrence Wallace, and Suzi Smith, president of the local chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors.
The shooting occurred when Mitchell and his partner met with a potential informer at Wescott and Benedict streets.
Charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder, James E. Lewis Jr., 19, of Allen Street, is accused of firing at Mitchell after the officer rolled down the window of the unmarked police car in which he was sitting. The bullet struck him in the right eye.
Police have said that after shooting Mitchell, Lewis exchanged gunfire with Mitchell's partner, who shot Lewis in the abdomen. Lewis then fled to a home on Wescott Street, where he surrendering to police.